I feel like I have written this article twice already; but until I see evidence on Astros Twitter that people actually understand what they are seeing with the Astros offense in 2022, it won't be the last. I would like to work through my thoughts on the Astros bats in a serious of questions and then provide the relevant data to truly assess the Astros batters. Some of these questions I asked on Twitter today to get a snapshot of where the passionate Astros fanbase is and use this to guide my feedback.
Question one- How good is the Astros batting?
The Twitter question I asked was
"The Astros batting is
A. Top 5 offense
B. Top 10 offense
C. Mediocre 11-20 offense
D. Terrible bottom 10 offense"
What would be your answer?
After nearly twelve hours the results so far are
The Astros batting is
A. Top 5 offense- 3%
B. Top 10 offense- 36%
C. Mediocre 11-20 offense- 49%
D. Terrible bottom 10 offense- 12%
What if I told you over half of Astros Twitter was wrong? Read On.
Question two- What is a significant sample size?
Personally, I have always considered around 200 PA to be a significant sample size and the point one can START to speak to the kind of season a player is having. Most of the Astros have not hit that mark yet but they are close. It is fair to start to discuss what this team is as a whole and where are they the strongest and weakest.
Many on Twitter have acted for weeks like the limited sample size of the 2022 was enough to be able to be definitive on the true talent of the Astros offense. It is my strong opinion that that is just WRONG. I will explain in more detail why later, but I tried to be creative to get the same community that is so sure about the Astros batting after 51 games to consider that they REALLY don't believe that. The easiest way to do this is to get people to describe what they thought of the 2020 season.
Question three- (Twitter poll)- So do we believe that the Dodgers record in 2020 is legitimate or was the sample size too small?
A. Legitimate- 10%
B. 60 games is too few- 90%
If Astros Twitter KNOWS that the 2020 Dodgers, who were 43-17 (extrapolate to 116-46), were truly not THAT good then WHY are so many convinced that the Astros offense is mediocre or terrible after 51 games?
Yes, we are reaching the point of a significant sample size. There are plenty of reasons to believe that the Astros offense is not this bad.
Speaking of what is mediocre or average, I think it is important to understand what is average in 2022.
A. 0.760-0.780 OPS - 10%
B. 0.720-0.740 OPS- 36%
C. 0.680-0.720 OPS- 55%
Thank goodness more than half of you are aware that 2022 is an offensive wasteland for batters. The average OPS. across MLB in 2022 is a startlingly low 0.696. Even the dead ball of 2014 was not this dead. You have to go all the way back to 1989 and forget everything we think we know about launch angles and exit velocity to find a year where the OPS was lower than it is so far in 2022. Maybe it gets better in the heat of summer. The May OPS of 0.711 was up from the abysmal April of 0.676. Maybe it was the short spring training. Maybe it's the humidor. Maybe they adjust the ball again mid season and don't tell anyone.
The point is RECALIBRATE what you think is good when you look at 2022 stats right now.
This is the key to evaluating the Astros offense and what is happening in 2022.
OK so now that we have all of that out of the way, what should we think about the Astros batting?
Even though it is early, how good or bad IS the Astros offense? In short, it depends.
Runs per Game
The point of the batters is to score runs right? As shown here, the Astros rank 21st in the MLB at scoring runs. The Astros were FIRST last year. THAT is why the offense feels so bad; they used to be the best. The league average runs per game in 2021 was 4.53 and now it is 4.27 in 2022. That is a massive drop in the baseline. The 2021 Astros scored 5.33 runs per game and now they are scoring 4.02. THIS is why the offense feels so bad.
The Astros are ninth best at drawing walks. This is about what they were last year.
The Astros are seventh best at avoiding strikeouts. Some of their younger players strike out a lot. They were the best last year.
The Astros are an average 14th best in OPS. They were second last year.
Given the other data it is startling to realize the Astros are eighth best in wRC+. In 2021 they led the league.
The Astros offense has delivered the 4th highest fWAR? How? One has to understand some additional statistics.
Astros fans hear me now and credit me later for telling you this. The Astros BABIP is a LEAGUE WORST at 0.259. League average BABIP is 0.287. Last year, the Astros BABIP was 0.303. If the Astros had even a normal BABIP they would have a top 5 OPS and at least a top 10 in R/G offense. It seems strange to say this on June 1st; the BABIP is a statistical anomaly and points to a huge degree of unluckiness in the Astros batting this year, The Astros offense is AT LEAST a top 10 if not a top 5 offense when the BABIP normalizes.
You heard it here first and the 50% plus are going to be shocked.
Why am I so adamant about the BABIP normalizing in this season of bad offense? Let's look at the individual Astros and their career BABIPs in the same data we showed for the teams.
Overall, BABIP is down league wide ~0.025, but many of the Astros are down twice that much meaning their BA could easily be 20-40 points higher and their SLG 40-80 points higher if they just had their normal luck EVEN accounting for the deader ball. Yes they don't suck; they continue to be unlucky.
So, that is just one statistic you might say. Don't worry I have more.
Batting with RISP
Is BABIP the Only thing wrong with the Astros offense? No. The Astros have been very poor at batting with RISP. In the table below I show their total and RISP stats for 2022 and compare the RISP to previous years.
The 2022 Astros are better with RISP than they are overall. That's good but they aren't even close to what they were in the other recent good Astros regular seasons. Their walks and strikeouts are normal but the same 2022 dead ball/ BABIP performance gap is really hurting them with RISP.
The wOBA and xwOBA spread
We have written about xwOBA numerous times on this site. Another way to quantify the Astros "unluck" would be the difference between their actual wOBA and their expected wOBA (xwOBA).
Without going into too much detail xwOBA is a predictive state based on the frequency and quality of contact (exit velocity, launch angle, barrel %, etc.).
As shown in the attached table the Astros rank 15th in actual wOBA (0.311) and fifth in xwOBA (0.345). FIFTH! Due to the dead ball the actual MLB wOBA is 0.02 below the expected wOBA. For the Astros the actual wOBA is 0.034 below the expected wOBA. This makes it tied for 3rd in the biggest negative spread. The wOBA spread validates the BABIP unlucky theory.
Which Astros players have the biggest wOBA spread?
First on the list is shocking- Yordan Alvarez. As good as Alvarez has been, he SHOULD be WAY better. Goodrum's numbers explain why they were willing to be so patient. Brantley, Castro, Tucker, Diaz all should get significantly better.
A word of caution
- Altuve cannot probably continue at this performance.
- Gurriel does NOT project to get any better and one might argue he should be worse.
OK so if the offense SHOULD be better, why are the Astros struggling so badly?
Statcast Hit Data
Normally, I would ask ClintTheScout to look at this data and take over the analysis here. I will give you some things that jump out to me in the Statcast hit data (from Baseball Savant). How do the Astros compare in these metrics?
Barrel Rate- The Astros rank 11th in Barrel Percent. Not great but not terrible.
Hard Hit Rate- The Astros rank 8th in Hard Hit rate. It just seems like the Astros have so many hard hit balls hit right at the shift. When the shift goes away in 2023 Alvarez and Tucker may feast.
Exit Velocity is average as a team but there is not much spread among all of the teams here.
The Astros are THIRD in launch angle. Are they trying to hit up too much with the 2022 baseball? Are fly balls that used to be home runs now loud out? Something to consider.
The individual player data also gives us some hints. I have the data from 2022 and 2021 for comparison.
Diaz- not barreling and not hitting as many hard and exit velocity is down
Bregman- hard hit data looks fine but launch angle has changed and perhaps he needs to hit with less lift.
McCormich- Hard hit % down significantly, and angle down maybe too much?
Castro- Everything is down, is he done?
Altuve- with the Hard Hit % drop start impacting him?
Siri- Barrels are way down in limited data, maybe this works with his speed
Tucker- Hard Hit % is way down, and launch angle is up maybe too much?
Maldonado- data would indicate he should be better than in 2021
Brantley- healthy and better than 2021
Alvarez- Hard Hit % 63.5%- Get the HOF ready for him if he stays healthy
Gurriel- Launch angle is way up and everything else is down. I am concerned the end is near.
So if the Astros want to fix things, a few guys appear to be trying to launch up too much with the 2022 baseball.
Otherwise, watch your Astros turn into a top 5, ok maybe top 10, offense as the BABIP normalizes and the wOBA starts to synchronize with the xwOBA.
Astros fans, get ready the bats ARE COMING.
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Most Data is from BaseballSavant.com and Frangraphs.com and R/G data from BaseballReference.com